SISD, DISD remove mask requirement, plan for full return to the classroom

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Officials with Sherman ISD announced Thursday that four campuses will transition to distance learning for the remainder of November starting on Monday.

When students return to the classroom in this fall, they will not be required to wear masks or face coverings following an executive order by Governor Greg Abbott last week. The order bars government groups, including municipalities and school districts, from requiring that people wear face coverings.

Following the order, representatives with Sherman and Denison Independent School districts plan to move forward into the fall semester without face mask requirements. Both districts have plans to return to the classroom with all students at the start of the new school year.

"Our school district has experienced a consistent decline in active COVID-19 cases since January," Sherman ISD said in a letter sent  to parents last week. "We attribute this decline to the collective effort by everyone to follow the health and safety protocols established last summer and to the ever-increasing number of vaccinated adults in our community."

The governor's order applies to many groups, including school districts, who were given a deadline of June 4 to remove any mandates previously in place. Exceptions to the order are being made for state-supported living centers and government-owned or -operated hospitals. Likewise, jails and prisons under the Texas Department of Justice and Texas Juvenile Justice Department will follow guidelines set by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Sherman announced last week that it will not require masks for students employees and visitors starting on June 1, 2021. However, the district still recommends that masks are worn while in district buildings or at district events.

""It is important to note that even with this change to our health and safety protocols, our district is still strongly encouraging parents to vaccinate their children according to current health recommendations before the start of the 2021-2022 school year," the district said. "We will continue teaching students about social distancing and hand-washing techniques that promote healthy habits."

Other precautions, including contact tracing and quarantining protocol, will still be in place as the district transitions into summer school.

"We will continue to monitor the reporting of active COVID-19 cases within our district and act proactively to maintain a healthy and safe learning environment for our students and staff," SISD said.

The summer season will also see the full return of in-person learning throughout the district.

"Although our recent parent survey indicated there is interest in offering an online school in SISD, our state legislature has not yet changed state law to allow this to occur," the district said. "We believe this option could be positive for some of our families, so we will continue to include this possibility among the innovative ideas we consider implementing in the future."

The Denison ISD Board of Trustees approved two items aimed at increasing morale and recognizing staff and educators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Denison ISD also plans to return to a world without masks for the fall semester, some questions still remain on how the transition will look said David Kirkbride, DISD assistant superintendent for instruction.

'We will follow the governor's executive order," he said. "We are no longer mandated or can require masks to be worn. So, we will follow right in line with that."

Kirkbride said the district plans to return to 100 percent in-person learning, but the district has not received guidance from the Texas Education Agency.

DISD- David Kirkbride, Asst. Superintendent for Instruction.

Not had convos about approach to recommend they be worn. Won't be worn in summer program unless teachers/students prefer to do so.

"We are just kind of relieved as a district that people have that option at this point in time and that was a nice surprise, I will put it that way." 

"Depending on what TEA guidelines require us to do, we may not be able to do that, but that's our plan," Kirkbride said, referring to the suspension of distance learning. "We know that having our students in the building and being able to build those face-to-face relationships ... you just can't replace that remotely."

Distance learning could still be used as an option for students who contract the disease or are exposed, but Kirkbride said it was too early to comment on the possibility.

"That may be an option that we end up doing, but we don't know what it will end up looking like at this time," he said.

Despite something of a return to normal, Kirkbride said practices started during COVID-19 will likely carry forward, including a focus on sanitation and hand washing. The biggest, however, may be the focus on equipping students with technology and the ability to get online from home.

"I think that is one of the best things to come out of this, he said. "There have been a lot of resources that have been handed down to the district to make that happen."